MudFire recently launched MudFire Labs, a creative play-space for exploring crossover between ceramics, printmaking, technology, and production. Our first big project was a technology evaluation and purchase for a a ceramic decal printer. In this post we'll talk a bit about the technology, the costs, and what the printer is capable of.
But first, take a look at this...over 940 glaze tests we fired last night...
The best part was NOT mixing 940 glaze tests. I found a 14 page Pantone color chart on the web, and imported it into Photoshop and divided into tiles. Then hit print. Awesome!
Technically these tests are overglazes. They were fired on top of commercial porcelain tile with white glaze. The printer prints ceramic pigments. There are four colors in the printer, it is a standard CMYK four color laser printer with special toner. You print using a special Photoshop color profile onto decal paper, prepare the decal paper with a covercoat & flux/glaze, apply the decals to pots that have already been through a glaze firing, and then fire the pots to 1500 F or about Cone 011.
The system includes the ceramic toners, the modified laser printer, decal paper, covercoat, and flux. Industry uses the phrase flux, but it is really a fritted glaze that melts the ceramic toner into the glaze on the work.
Several years ago, purchasing and outfitting a printer system like this cost $30,000 and there was only one vendor in the US that offered a solution. Due to advances in technology and a more competitive market with multiple vendors, you can now purchase a system for under $10,000 with an affordable maintenance contract to protect against unexpected expenses.
MudFire evaluated different options, ranging from a very established pioneer in the field, to hiring a consultant to modify a printer, to outsourcing our decal printing, to a relatively new company in Phoenix called Digital Ceramic Technologies, or DCT. We went with the DCT system. Their website is www.ceramicdecalprinters.com.
Many of you may remember Andy Brayman's service EasyCeramicDecals.com which seems no longer to be active. Janet at www.ceramicdecalprinting.com has picked up where he left off. We had the good fortune to meet Janet during our evaluation and at our DCT training session in Phoenix. If you need someone to print labels for you, don't hesitate to call her. She has I think four printers in-house running full time and was planning on buying another from DCT.
The founders of DCT, Mark and Joel, were early users of another vendor's products, and they started DCT to provide a very customer-focused, high quality, lower cost solution. We think they've achieved that. Visiting their training class in Phoenix was an amazing experience and we were so excited to get back and unpack our system and get printing. They've come up with a simple solution that prints well, having developed their own toners, papers, and coatings that work extremely well together for great color.
We're surprised at how few clay studios have this sort of technology available. I think with DCT out there, that is going to change quickly. If you'd like to read more about my personal vision for how and why I'll be using the printer in my work, check out my personal blog entry. Here's a peak at the first actual pots out of the kiln with color decals.